In January, state Sen. Linda Lopez of Arizona retired after 13 years in the legislature. Before announcing her retirement, Lopez looked for a candidate to endorse to fill her vacancy. She soon settled on Daniel Hernandez, Jr., a friend and a board member of Tuscon’s Sunnyside Unified School District. He agreed and began gathering support to run for office. A win seemed likely. There was just one problem. Hernandez was 24. Arizona law requires legislators to be at least 25 years old. But Hernandez initially hoped he could run because he would turn 25 just 13 days after being sworn in. It wouldn’t have been unprecedented. Young federal and state legislators-to-be have found ways to work around age of candidacy laws for almost as long as the laws have existed. Back in 1806, antebellum statesman Henry Clay was appointed to the U.S. Senate at the age of 29 and reached the Senate’s age of eligibility, 30, more than three months after being sworn in. No one seemed to mind. Hernandez wasn’t so lucky. As he found out, Arizona state law requires candidates to sign an affidavit proving that they will be eligible for the office they seek on Election Day, barring him from running altogether. The law was clear: 24-year-old Hernandez was unqualified to serve in the state Senate this year. But a 25-year-old Hernandez would have been fine.
It didn’t matter that Hernandez had already worked on education legislation as a lobbyist and director of the Arizona Students’ Association. His service on the city of Tucson’s GLBT commission, a body that advises the city’s mayor and city council on queer rights, was similarly irrelevant. His management of state Sen. Steve Farley’s re-election campaign, his work as the Southern Arizona Director of former Surgeon General Richard Carmona’s Senate campaign, and his role as a Latino Outreach Coordinator for the Arizona Democratic Party all counted for nothing. And the job he is best known for, in the eyes of the law, was just as meaningless.
In January 2011, Hernandez began working as a staffer to Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. It was Hernandez who, just five days after starting work, delivered the initial care that saved Giffords’ life after Jared Lee Loughner’s assassination attempt. In a speech at a nationally televised vigil for the incident’s victims, Hernandez claimed he wasn’t a hero. President Obama disagreed and said so.
But the age requirements of the Arizona constitution don’t bend for heroes. According to the law, Daniel Hernandez is not an individual with a body of accomplishment. He is a 24-year-old. And 24-year-olds, the law presumes, are too immature to serve in the Arizona state house.